Hours after the final bell rang Thursday, Penticton Secondary was still buzzing as volunteers sorted, counted and carried away 13,000 food-item donations for the Salvation Army.
Upwards of 600 high school students and other volunteers blanketed the city and collected enough items to easily surpass the stated goal of the annual 10,000 Tonight food drive.
“We don’t really know what it’s like to not have access to food all the time, and I feel like this kind of gives you a glimpse of that, but not really,” said volunteer Jolene Gunning, a Grade 11 student at Penticton Secondary.
She and peers from Princess Margaret Secondary rubbed elbows at the sorting station as they separated similar food items, like canned goods or pasta, into milk crates. Runners then hauled the crates to counting stations where the number of items was tallied, then took the donations out to a large van that later delivered the haul to the Salvation Army.
Gunning, 15, worked her first 10,000 Tonight when she was 10 because both her parents are teachers, and feels a familiar glow each year.
“It just makes you feel good and makes you feel like you helped in some way,” she said.
Penticton Secondary vice-principal Jeff Guy noted students participate in other events, like blanket drives, to benefit the Sally Ann, “but this is the one I think folks look forward to because it brings so many people together.”
Guy said every available route was covered this year, which means almost every home in the city should have received a visit.
“Not everyone is home and some people don’t get the message, but for the most part the response has been wonderful, especially given the economic times we’re in,” he said.
Not only that, but donors seemed willing to give more than the usual staples.
“I’ve seen pet food come through here. I’ve seen baby food come through here. And other items that you wouldn’t normally expect,” Guy said. “People see the need and always seem to come through for us.”
Christine Simmons, the Sally Ann’s community ministries director, said it will take a week for volunteers to sort through the donations from 10,000 Tonight, which should help feed hungry people well into next year.
“We still have to buy some things, but for the most part, it will keep us going until April,” she said.
Simmons said the event seems to run more smoothly each year and continually renews many people’s faith in the younger generation.
“I think we all, the older we get, maybe the less understanding we are of teenagers and we forget that we were this age at one point…. It just reinforces your faith in the fact there are good people in the world and a lot of them are kids,” she said.
“They’re more community-minded I think than when I was a child.”